Richard Seymour: Flipping a coin

Christo Coetzee, “Janus”

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Corey Ansel blogs at The Chair-Leg of Truth — the title of which I still don’t understand, admittedly. He is also a former member of the Platypus Affiliated Society, having resigned shortly after I did back in May. Our reasons for leaving were largely the same; obstinacy and authoritarianism from the top, combined with outrageous and extremely irresponsible rhetoric both toward other groups and its own members. Ansel is by temperament more inclined toward the contemporary Spartacist League, the only group I see as really representative of Trotskyism once was (back when the Fourth International was still somewhat relevant), at least more so than I am. My own intellectual predisposition is toward critical theory and historical Bolshevism up to the period of the Left Opposition, though somewhat beyond.

This isn’t the first time Corey has taken aim at Seymour, however. Back during the SWP rape coverup scandal, he wrote an article which I republished here called “The Fools on the Hill.” Not long thereafter I published a brief response, perhaps too cleverly titled “No ‘True’ Trots, Man,” where I took issue with his quest for an “authentic” Trotskyist (or even Marxist) movement against which to contrast the phony organizations of today. In my view, such  quest is vain. Stylistically, Ansel comes closer to the Sparts, who themselves seek to mimic Trotsky’s own rather bombastic prose. If you’d like, you can read back to those articles or just continue to the piece below. James Heartfield has also just published a follow-up, “Further Adventures in ‘Intersectionality’,” which I’ll be reposting shortly.

Corey Ansel
The Chair-Leg of
Truth (1.29.14)

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Those working in comics or film certainly couldn’t construct a better Two Face character — you know, from Batman — than Richard Seymour. In recent months, the poster child of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) opposition has been testing his luck with the forces of political chance. Formerly coming out of the corner of the British Cliffites, the self-described author decidedly changed his tune during the second period intermission. Those of us who have been long-time observers of the political zig-zags in the reformist camp weren’t surprised to see Seymour duck the punches of his former mentors in the SWP while he abandoned ship on the organization he had religiously defended up and to that point without any peep of protest. While the notion that the SWP magically became a bureaucratically warped organization seemingly overnight due to the mishandling of rape allegations within the organization might seem outlandish, it was no laughing matter to those who would go on to form the International Socialist Network (ISN), from which Seymour and his cohorts have now resigned. Making a career out of aligning with identity politics and “intersectionality,” Seymour seemed to have hoped that the coin would continue to fall heads’ side up. And it had, until now.

This time, fate had his number. A recent debacle took place on the Facebook page of a leader of the ISN. The instrument that had reaped so many rewards for these latter-day rebels proved to bury those who lacked prowess in handling the fairytale that is online politics. Ideologically, Facebook allows pseudo-Marxists and all of their hanger-ons to perpetuate allegedly open arguments that are actually structured to their benefit, flowered with all the language of “safe spaces” that have become so popular these days at the expense of any real political integrity. Whereas those attending political meetings that tend to be breeding grounds for interventions from the Spartacist League could traditionally only sing a tune with their fingers in their ears, now the “unfriend” button has become the fundamental object and means of criticism. This supplements the discussions on left unity that have become so rampant in the United Kingdom, with an organization titled by the same name and precious talks between fragmented opportunist organizations like Workers Power, which are actually just farces in the making. Just like sects across the globe seek to latch on to the movement and broad struggles of the day, so have these latter-day reformists jumped the wagon regarding talks of unity on the left, seeking to intersperse their generic brand of orthodoxy which will inevitably lead to more crying, but certainly not political clarity.

Building upon this house of cards, Workers Power and their phony League for the Fifth International (L5I) have all but begged Seymour’s ISN and the broad umbrella Anti-Capitalist Initiative to lend credibility to their tiny, irrelevant sect. However, in an article titled “Revolutionary Unity Must be Built on Firm Foundations,” the ostensible Trotskyists of the L5I utterly fail to question the social basis of women’s oppression, let alone discuss the shortcomings of bourgeois feminism and pressure politics. Instead, liquidationism is the slogan of the day. Whereas intersectionality becomes the clarion call of the ISN’s cohorts, Workers Power sings a tune of watering down political differences. For Marxists, phony unity is not the means of advancing the class struggle and the battle against oppression, but instead political clarity is paramount. No amount of veneer can hide this fact from both groups, including Workers Power that is quite fond of using the language of Marxism in asking questions about the revolutionary party, program and the socialist transformation of society. However, this veil is exposed as ripped and torn when it becomes apparent that the L5I has no interest of making a critique of the reformist political history of the SWP or the ISN, but instead seeks to accommodate to their capitulationist sloganeering. They wouldn’t dare raise a peep to offend those they need so desperately to continue treading the path of phony unity on the left amongst utterly different political projects, visions and structures for a post-capitalist society.

While the ritual tip of the hat is made to the program of Lenin and Trotsky by the L5I in statements such as “But the baby that should not be thrown out is the idea of an organization, developing a political strategy and working in a disciplined way in the class struggle, with the goal of building a revolutionary party” from their recent article titled, “2014: Year of Revolutionary Unity?”, there is little substance to the charade. Later in the piece, they make their intentions quite known with another paying of dues in the realm of lip service. The author states, “No less important in a year which marks the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the First International is the question of international revolutionary regroupment. We should take an initiative or join any already underway to take the first steps towards laying the foundation of their successor.” As they’ve shown before, they will indeed “join any already underway initiative,” despite its hyper-reformist content, so long as it falls into the realm of left-sounding rhetoric. This is displayed time and time again by the nightmarish attempts at watering down class lines in the interest of “left unity” in Britain that have happened historically in the last two decades, which have been stop-and-go projects at best, distillery of the swamp at worst. Workers Power and its fellow pseudo-Marxists in the SWP and Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW) are more than happy to swim with the stream when the going gets tough programmatically.

Etching of Janus

Etching of Janus

Perhaps Workers Power is apprehensive about investigating the political history of the Cliffites for fear that their own opportunism will be exposed. Both tendencies played a significant part in hailing the counterrevolutionary wave that destroyed the Soviet Union, the former lauding the development as a victory for “authentic socialism” and the latter lining Yeltsin’s barricades. In truth, both groups are already quite united in practice, taking up residence in the same swamp of anti-Marxism that they’d prefer to forget.

In regards to political program and Marxist content, there is little the ISN and its starry-eyed supporters don’t seek to liquidate. You’d be hard pressed to find many in their organizational circles who uphold even elementary Marxist principles, let alone the urgent proclamation made by Trotsky that “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.” Whereas the Bolshevik leader urged a turn to the proletariat, these forces have made a turn to the Internet, as there is no better way to marginalize political discourse contemporarily than to delete a post. These alleged “safe spaces” are actually hotbeds of apoliticality. Instead, bourgeois feminism is on the menu today, as opposed to a fundamental understanding of say, the Bolshevik experience and actually applying a program for women’s liberation. And Seymour and Co. gladly eat until their plates are spotless.

This is why it comes as no surprise that Seymour and all of his cronies failed such a basic litmus test as dealing with a blatantly racist advertisement. Taking pages from the postmodernist handbook, which apparently all of these folks receive upon making the jump from pseudo-Marxist identification to transparent identity politics, the ISN and its Facebook observers were thrown into a frenzy in attempting to understand how their brand of moralism must respond to the blatantly and intentionally provocative marketing scheme. It appeared that Seymour found himself between a hard place and a crock of shit, subtly smashed between the contradictions of how a proponent of intersectionality should comprehend racist overtones while still sprinkling in pieces of a semi-Marxist analysis. The shovel he had used to dig deeper the grave of revolutionary Marxism came back to strike him in the hands of others.

Using the building blocks of the Avakianites with their rabid anti-sex and anti-porn campaigns, moral policing appears to be the order of the day. The pseudo-left (from the ISN to their mother organization and countless others prostrate on the altar of movementist politics) seeks to build a church of purity. It is not genuinely concerned with questions of women’s and sexual liberation. Instead of focusing their crosshairs on breaking tradition’s fetters and putting forward a radical rupture with the bourgeois state’s claims regarding sexual normalcy and virtue, they instead capitulate to this brutal capitalist system and all the atrocities this entails. There’s a reason an article on the Lenin’s Tomb blog titled “The Point of Intersection” doesn’t mention the working class, let alone proletarian revolution or how to build a party to contribute to the process of distilling political program in the interest of making it happen. What’s most touching is Seymour’s recent book Unhitched, which lambasts the late Christopher Hitchens for all of his capitulations to imperialism and bourgeois ideology, all the while Seymour literally kisses his footsteps one by one on the same path to accepting the brutal capitalist present and instead casting a veil of liberal ignorance over the contradictions. There is no consistency to either ideologue, with both having waved goodbye to any semblance of critical analysis, in favor of dancing to the tune of the day. However, at least Hitchens is granted the reprieve of death. We do not currently know how much further Seymour will slide into the swamp in the realm of the living.

Alexandra Kollontai would like to order a wake up call to such liberal proponents:

However, in their demands for political equality our feminists are like their foreign sisters; the wide horizons opened by social democratic learning remain alien and incomprehensible to them. The feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society. They fight for prerogatives for themselves, without challenging the existing prerogatives and privileges. We do not accuse the representatives of the bourgeois women’s movement of failure to understand the matter; their view of things flows inevitably from their class position.

Seymour turned up on the opposing side, however. Tongue-in-cheek rationalizations certainly don’t make the cut regarding situations of programmatic integrity. The question becomes whether the writer’s burial by his comrades online will lead to deeper fundamental questions regarding the Marxist critique and its burning relevance contemporarily. This call will likely not come within earshot of those comrades, living in a climate of political backwardness imbued with an utter failure to comprehend the necessity of dismantling class society through a workers’ revolution. There is a road to be found here, but it is not that of Seymour, his cohorts or any of the reformist left that line the shores of the swamp while spouting off nothing more than empty rhetoric.

The response from Seymour and his cohorts, if these assertions are anything but ignored by those who wouldn’t even be able to effectively talk politics in the streets of Petrograd in 1917, will likely be generic. They are in opposition to stale orthodoxy, to bureaucratic cliques and sects, and to presenting Marxism as a dogmatic set of ideas. Their positions are touching, lamentable even, but there would be a fundamental difference if there lay an ounce of anything but anti-communism behind the veil of rhetorical skills and political avoidance. James P. Cannon was familiar with this phenomenon when he wrote in “The Struggle for a Proletarian Party”:

The petty-bourgeois intellectuals are introspective by nature. They mistake their own emotions, their uncertainties, their fears and their own egoistic concern about their personal fate for the sentiments and movements of the great masses. They measure the world’s agony by their own inconsequential aches and pains. Insofar as our party membership consists in part of petty-bourgeois elements completely disconnected from the proletarian class struggle, the crisis which overtook the periphery of our movement is transferred, or rather, extended, into the party.

Marx said history progresses first as tragedy, then as farce. If so, then Richard Seymour has transcended both and now lies in the realm of the pathetic. Let’s just hope his former comrades don’t look to melt half his face in the interest of making him reflect his political hypocrisy on the outside.

5 thoughts on “Richard Seymour: Flipping a coin

  1. Richard Seymour is a big fat dope but this reads like more holier-than-thou sanctimoniousness about how more authentically Marxist you are. Accusing people of retreating into Facebook as a way of avoiding the real world (very true) while going on about talking political shop on the streets of 1917 Petrograd is hilariously out-of-touch. Get over yourself!

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. I agree that Corey sometimes seems to bank on a kind of politics that simply isn’t available today. That’s sort of what I was trying to get at when I prefaced the article with the observation that Corey chases after an “authentic” Marxism or Trotskyism that for various historical reasons is not simply unrealistic but actually impossible today. Still, I think there’s something to be said for the kind of invective that might issue out of another era passing judgment on our own.

  2. Pingback: Against Richard Seymour | The Charnel-House

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